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Archive for May, 2007

LiveJournal journalists community

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

There’s pretty much only one reason why I still have an active LiveJournal account. OK, two.

One is to keep tabs on the lives of my friends from high school and college who haven’t moved from LJ to MySpace or personal blogs.

The other is a far more practical use. It’s to participate in one community: journalists.

There are lots of places to get advice online. You could read Poynter, especially Joe Grimm’s insightful Ask the Recruiter column.

There are also several places to keep up with industry news, including the ever popular Romenesko.

And you can find job postings and network with others in any number of places.

But something about this community continues to draw me back virtually daily. Perhaps it’s that I can and do see all those things each day on the group. It’s small enough — one or two postings a day — so as not to be overwhelming. But it’s also big enough to have a sizeable knowledge base. You can also just throw something out there and quickly poll working professionals (and a few students) in different countries or states, different industries or positions, and with different levels of experience.

I remember after accepting my job, I posted something asking for advice on starting on the education beat. I was met with encouraging advice and a plethora of links and suggestions. Today, there’s a soon-to-be intern posting about what to wear. Look through the past few days and you’ll see questions ranging from snarky commentary, to “what would you do?”, to a job posting you might not find elsewhere (and more importantly a person to network with before you apply).

I like the back and forth discussions that spring up. It’s like a cross between a bulletin board/forum and a blog. Anyone can join and post or reply to an entry, but it’s all one long thread. And people are pretty respectful, even though you rarely know who someone is (maybe the city or region they work in or what job title they hold, but not much else). And somehow, it doesn’t matter.

Maybe there’s another community like it out there. I’m sure there is. But for me, I like the format and the people at the LJ journalists community.

How do you spell successful bee coverage?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

The national spelling bee runs through Thursday. I never thought I’d say it, but the spelling bee is pretty cool, especially for kids who make it that far. I don’t really watch TV, so I can’t catch it on ABC or ESPN.

Therefore, I’m digging the Gannett News Service treatment.

First, I liked that I could see our local winner, Sameer, spell his words. This is his third appearance at the national bee, and he’s holding his own and going for it. I know I should be objective, but how can you not root for the hometown kid? (Plus, Abbey’s handling following the spelling bee, not me.) UPDATE: Julie, the executive editor, agrees with me.

I also reaaally like the little blog posts filed on the side. They get cute angles about the kids, their methods and their thoughts on the words they get. It helps you realize that’s really what it’s about: the kids.

Also, we got updates about Sameer’s progress throughout the day from the Indy Star reporter (also Gannett) who’s there covering it. If the newsroom’s following of him was any indication of the public’s (and I guess I’ll see when we the page views e-mailed to us tomorrow), there is a lot of interest. I know I found myself going back to the site every so often to see where he stood.

One thing I could do without? All of the puns. It might be cute once, but seriously, nearly every story s-p-e-l-l-s out something or encourages spellers to “bee” confident, etc. (Note my attempt at a lame title for the post. It’s lame, let’s stop doing it now.)

Amazing package: Soul of Athens

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Check out the Soul of Athens project. (Via Multimedia Shooter.)

I don’t know what class or group or what prepared this package of videos/stories, but seriously, each of the stories is amazing. Together, they really do give you an indepth understanding of the soul of the city where Ohio University is based.

This package is amazing. Well done!

A few to definitely check out:

  • Jenny’s Story — if you only watch one, this is the one to watch. It’s a pretty raw and honest capture of that girl’s apprehensions and ambitions for life beyond her school and city. It’s also universal. I can hear this girl’s voice echo through millions of small towns.
  • Love in the First Person — I love the intimacy of this video, which is shot mostly from the fiance’s camera lens. It’s the basic idea that young love can conquer anything, and this is a testament that even through the tough times, this couple is ready to try.
  • Be Not Afraid — A woman in Iraq to help as a member of a Christian organization is abducted. Listening to her recount the tale is incredible. The way the video is shot and edited also works so well with this story, the stops and starts and unpected turns it brings.

Students, profs speak out on journalism prospects

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

I saw an interesting piece on Romenesko: “Colleges keep turning out optimistic print journalists despite the newspaper industry crunch

Most interesting point: On the students still enrolling in j-school in huge quantity…

“These students are young, and I’m not sure they’re particularly concerned or cognizant of the industry’s problems,” Kirkton said. “I think they just expect a lot of change in their lives and that if they go out of here with a good skill set, particularly the ability to communicate well, that they’re going to find a place in life.”

and later on:

“They see this revolutionary change that we’re in now as simply a matter of course. I find them looking forward to helping write the new business model of the newspaper industry,” said Fink, the author of nine journalism textbooks and a former executive vice president of Park Communications, an East Coast newspaper and broadcast company. “I find them intrigued with the online dimensions of the industry.

(My aside to that comment is it hits spot on on how I feel. I accept and embrace change. That’s why I always hated the “where do you see yourself in five years” question. I don’t even know what crazy new way of telling or producing the news is going to exist in five years. But I see myself there, wherever there is.)

Most depressing part: A comment made to a recent grad by human resources for one of the newspaper chains…

“She was like, ‘You know, I don’t want to discourage you, but if you can use your journalism degree to get into a different career path, I would recommend doing that,'” Rancer recalled. “It’s a really, really tight market for recent college grads in journalism.”

(My aside to that comment is that person should get out of this business pronto. There are enough nay-sayers and doomsday predictions from the peanut gallery. We don’t need people hiring and inspiring the next generation of journalists trying to deflect them from pursuing their goals.

To recent grads, my friends from KSU and elsewhere, there are jobs. Yes it will suck to do a job search. No you won’t start out at the Chicago Tribune. Yes you will be paid poorly. No you won’t get the holidays and weekends off. Maybe you’ll luck out, and it won’t be a long drawn out process, somehow I did. Maybe you’ll spend the next six months wondering why you didn’t major in engineering or considering grad school. Stick it out. You were drawn to this profession because you had a passion for it. If you don’t have that passion, spare yourself, your eventual employer and all those other kids who do have a passion by removing yourself from queue of people desperate for a job.)

Most encouraging part: On getting the future of “newspapers”…

“Newspapers might not be on paper some day, but these students, I think, believe that there will be some kind of newspaper industry,” Fox said. “I think what we have to do is really teach the core values of journalism, to be able to understand what is news, how to write it, how to get it ethically and accurately delivered. Past that, I think that we’re in a time where we need to teach that and then get out of the way. We need to let them lead and let us mentor.”

I was quoted in a similar article in the Beacon Journal last summer: “Journalism still a popular major at college

My quote then still holds true today: “I didn’t pick it because it was well paid,” said Meranda Watling, a senior at Kent State who is interning at The Courier in Findlay. “I picked it because I can see myself getting up every day of my life and being excited about going to work.”

ABJ managing editor’s departure strikes a chord

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

The managing editor at the Akron Beacon Journal is leaving to be the editor at the Evasville Courier-Press.

Mizell Stewart was the top editor at the Beacon since last fall when they randomly announced the editor would be leaving. This after being sold by Knight-Ridder, then bought and then sold, all which were followed by a round of lay-offs that cut about a quarter of the newsroom.

Though I’ve never worked for the Beacon, I have had many friends who did, including several during or since that transition. And from my understanding the morale of the newsroom is pretty much non-existant these days; their belief in the future of journalism is in question. I’m sure there are exceptions to that rule, but from what I’ve been told, of late it became a depressing place to work.

So, when my editor pointed out this announcement on Friday night, it made me sad. The Beacon needs stability and strong leadership now more than ever. He didn’t understand why it would trouble me to hear of another shake-up. But I grew up reading the Beacon Journal. The ABJ is my hometown paper, and everybody has a soft spot for their hometown paper. I was extremely fortunate because my paper was so high quality. The journalism they produced mattered, and the stories they chased changed things. It’s the paper that made me believe in quality journalism and the nobility of pursuing this as a career. It’s still the place I go to find out news about the people and places I grew up with, but sadly, it’s not at all the same paper I grew up reading. So my sincere hope is this is the last change in editorial leadership for awhile, and the new editor, Bruce Winges, who is apparently a long-time newspaperman (much of it at the Beacon), can turn around not just the morale but the decline. And I hope he redesigns the Web site, too.

(Oh, I added that last comment and then read the whole story which says there’s an Ohio.com redesign in the works for July! Thank you journalism Gods.)

FYI: Evansville, according to the job posting for the editor position, has a circulation of about 67,000 daily and 89,000 Sunday. The Beacon Journal’s circulation is about 134,000 daily and 174,000 Sunday, according to the Beacon’s article.

(As an aside, I would like to see paper’s including their online viewership / unique visitors per day in these things. It’s interesting to me, just from what I’ve heard from other friends at different papers and comparatively here, how the online numbers can be really disproportionate to the print circulation. Some smaller papers have online viewerships on par or even higher than papers twice their size.)

More on the announcement:
The Beacon’s take and new editor announcement or The Courier-Press’s really long story about Stewart’s arrival.

Interview formats

Friday, May 25th, 2007

I’m a little behind in my RSS feeds this week, but I just came across this post over at MediaShift. Basically, it’s a run down of the most common interview formats and the strengths and weaknesses of each, as well as how each could improve.

I’d been following the debate that inspired the post, so this was a nice overview of where things stand.

Personally, I prefer face-to-face interviewing if I can swing it. First, I’m an observer; spending 10 minutes in a room can reveal so much more than half an hour on the phone. Second, I like to remind my sources I’m a person, not just a voice on the other end of the phone. That’s why I make a point of stopping by the principal’s offices when I’m in a school and knowing the names of the secretaries (who I talk to pretty frequently), even if it’s just to say “Hi, how are you doing?”

I also think you gain more credibility by actually being out there. I remember one time I was covering an event and this man came up to me and thanked me for being there, for actually getting out in the community to do my reporting not just letting a few phone calls suffice. It’s also a lot more fun for me to spend time outside the office observing and taking in the action and the atmosphere than to wait on returned phone calls. Plus, it’s harder to dodge a reporter who shows up at your office than it is to forget to return a call.

Other than that or if I just need a quick hit quote or basic information, I’ll turn to the phone. I like being able to think on my feet and react and respond immediately to the information I get. Sometimes, you go into it expecting one thing and the story turns half-way through. That’s a lot harder in an e-mail.

I am warming up a lot more to e-mail, though not at all as my primary interview method. I only use it to ask follow-up questions or to try and catch someone who hasn’t been returning my calls or who I can’t seem to catch on the phone. But I’ve been leaning on it a lot more now than in the past. You’d think being as tech-savvy as I am that I’d use it more, but it just feels really impersonal for most of the things I do.

The turning point I think in the benefit of e-mail as a information-gathering method for me was last month when I wanted to confirm some facts and ask a few follow-up questions for the story I wrote about amazing students being rejected by Ivy league schools. I e-mailed the main source and asked him maybe two follow-up questions. He replied and wrote me a long, thoughtful essay about what it was like for him to go through the process of applying to the elite colleges. I mean seriously introspective, way beyond what I’d been able to get from the interview I conducted with him at his school. I considered using a quote from it, but then I decided it should stand on its own. It told the story so much better than I could hope to, so I took the e-mail to my editor and asked to run it in its near 50-inch entirety online. We did.

Since then, I’ve been a bit more open to using it, especially in follow-ups.

I’m still not sure how I feel about IM interviews, though I think it has a lot to do with my beat. Education really isn’t something you can cover, not even poorly, by sitting at your desk. You really need to be out in the classrooms and at the schools. Probably (or at least) 90 percent of my sources don’t sit at a desk with a computer at it all day. So, this really wouldn’t work for me. However, I suppose I could try it with a few high school students. Perhaps one day I’ll try it. For now though, I’d rather meet them at the mall or after school.

QOTD: Be the miracle

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

“Parting a soup is not a miracle, Bruce. It’s a magic trick. A single mom who’s working two jobs, and still finds time to take her son to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says ‘no’ to drugs and ‘yes’ to an education, that’s a miracle. People want me to do everything for them. What they don’t realize is they have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.”
— Morgan Freeman in ‘Bruce Almighty’